Melanie Ofenloch

Comstock Winery – One Family’s Vision to Grow and Source the Best Sonoma Has to Offer

Comstock Winery is a family affair that was inspired by the fundamental passion to grow and source the best Sonoma County has to offer and transform grapes into wines that are as delicious as they are memorable.  It truly is a family affair.  Bob and Sandy Comstock began growing grapes in Dry Creek Valley in 2002 and over time decided they wanted to start a winery, which they acquired in 2012, and opened in 2015.

Their daughter, Kelly Comstock Ferris, who was our host and is the General Manager, told us about the 17-acre vineyard that yields Zinfandel (some of their Zinfandel vines are 115 years old), Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay.  Winemaker Chris Russi took us through the winery and into the vineyards where I may have gotten a little too zealous about checking out the soil when he mentioned dry farming.  One hose off later and we were back on the tour.  Chris talked about helping to build the winery from the ground up as “a winemaker’s dream.”

How Is the Wine

This was a favorite of our group during the trip and I personally shipped home a case.   Since it’s been about two years since I’ve personally visited, I wanted to list what is currently available. Many of these wines weren’t around when we tasted, so it’s time for a follow up visit.  My standouts were the Viognier (notes of orange blossom, stone fruit and white flowers), the Sauvignon Blanc (tropical fruit, grapefruit, citrus and a nice minerality) and the Zinfandel (spice, deep berry, earth).

  • 2016 Viognier, Russian River Valley (wine club exclusive)
  • 2014 Zinfandel, Rockpile (wine club exclusive)
  • 2017 Rose, Sonoma County (new release, wine club exclusive)
  • 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley
  • 2015 Merlot, Dry Creek Valley (first vintage)
  • 2014 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast
  • 2014 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
  • 2013 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley
  • 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley

 Atmosphere:

The winery truly is a place where the Comstock’s want wine lovers to gather.  From the pizza ovens on the patio to the annual Easter egg hunt to bocce ball on the lawn, it is a place that encourages gathering over a great glass (or two or…) of wine (and I tried and took home many of these wines).  They served us an amazing lunch and we got to live the motto — “We are All Comstock Wines.”

Pricing and Availability

The wines range from $28 to $65 and several are wine club exclusives.

Daily Tasting

Each Tasting Flight includes a selection of five current release wines.  Available Daily: 10:30a-4:30p. Classic Flight: $20 per guest | Red Flight: $20 per guest (Complimentary with wine purchase).

Terrace Tasting

The Terrace overlooks Comstock’s Estate Merlot Vineyards.  Enjoy a private tasting of six wines.  Available Daily: 11am, 1pm, 3pm. $35 per guest/$20 per Wine Club Member.  Add a Charcuterie Plate to any tasting for $30.

Wine & Cheese Pairing

This private, guided tasting includes a selection of four of the region’s best artisan cheeses, chosen to compliment the flavors of the wines.  Available Daily: 11am, 1pm, 3pm. $45 per guest/$25 per Wine Club Member.

Brunch White Flight

Enjoy a flight of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, paired perfectly with seasonal brunch bites.  Available by appointment. $50 per guest/ $45 Wine Club Members. Limited to 20 guests.

Wine & Pizza Pairing

Enjoy an afternoon of great wines, grand food and good games!  Experience a unique flight of Comstock Wines paired perfectly with pizzas prepared in their Mugnaini Woodfired Oven.  Then get your game on and enjoy their regulation size Bocce Court. Available Each Saturday (Beginning March 3): 12pm & 2pm, or by appointment. $50 per guest / $40 Wine Club Members.

Blending Seminar

Join veteran winemaker, Chris Russi, or one of their Wine Educators and learn what it takes to make the perfect blend.   This is a unique opportunity for wine lovers of all levels to enjoy a one-of-a-kind tasting experience.  Tour Comstock Wine’s state of the art facility, and then take your shot at becoming winemaker for a day as you assemble your own blend.  Available by appointment. $75 per person/$60 for Wine Club Members.

Winery Tour and Taste

Learn about Comstock’s history, philosophy and winemaking techniques, along with their commitment to sustainable farming on a tour of their winemaking facility, located on Comstock’s seventeen-acre estate in the bucolic Dry Creek Valley.  Explore the estate vineyards and learn about vineyard practices, winemaking techniques and Comstock’s commitment to excellence in winemaking.  Available: By Appointment.  $45 per guest / $25 Wine Club Members. Reservations required.

Winemaker’s Table

Join Comstock’s winemaker and hospitality team members at the open table for a casual tastings and an organic experience and discussion about wine.  Taste 5 wines along with charcuterie bites.  Available by appointment. $50 per guest / $45 Wine Club Members.

Picnic with Comstock Wines

Relax and savor the wine country!  Enjoy a flight of Comstock Wines and a picnic basket, which includes salami, cheese, crackers, olives, chocolates, dried fruit and nuts (vegetarian options available as well). Linens, stemware, cutting board and knife are also provided.

1290 Dry Creek Road

Healdsburg, CA 95448

(707) 723-3011

Hours:

Open Daily: 10:30am -4:30pm

 

Wine Clubs:

MICRO Club (Pre-Selected)

10% Discount on Wine Club Shipments (3 Bottles Per Shipment / 12 Bottles Per Year) and Additional Wine Orders.

MESO Club

15% Discount on Wine Club Shipments (6 Bottles Per Shipment / 24 Bottles Per Year) and Additional Wine Orders.

MACRO Club

20% Discount on Wine Club Shipments (12 Bottles Per Shipment / 48 Bottles Per Year) and Additional Wine Orders.

Chappellet Vineyards: Pioneers on Pritchard Hill Inspired by More than 50 Years of Family Legacy

For five decades, the Chappellet family has been crafting world-class wines from the steep, rocky slopes of Napa Valley’s renowned Pritchard Hill.  As one of the first wineries to pioneer high-elevation hillside planting, and one of the few remaining great family-owned Napa Valley wineries, Chappellet Vineyard has influenced generations of vintners and is known as one of the top producers of Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had the chance to talk with Cyril Chappellet, the Chairman of the Board of Chappellet Vineyards, and he talked about how his parents set the tone of the winery and its mission.  His father, Donn Chappellet, who was instrumental in pioneering high-elevation vineyard planting, he describes as an introvert.  Prior to the winery, Donn co-founded Interstate United Corporation, a food service business that distributed the first vending machines to make coffee from grounds, and became a publicly-traded company.  Donn first traveled to Napa with his wife, Molly, from Los Angeles and decided to start a new life there with the winery as the center of the family business.

He described his mother, Molly, as the extrovert – an artist, a published author, a mom of six and the aesthetic “czarina” of all things Pritchard Hill, the site of the winery.  From his description, she moves 1,000 miles a minute, knows every inch of vineyard topography and is currently masterminding several projects including writing the book for the winery’s 50-year anniversary, which debuts in 2017.

They chose Pritchard Hill where they fell in love with the view and had the notion that the God Bacchus would be generous to the hills.  This was further validated by Andre Tchelistcheff, one of the valley’s early wine pioneers.  The love affair with Cabernet Sauvignon was born, which led to the second generation of family members dedicated to growing the best grapes, sustaining the land and continuing the legacy started by their parents.  I was also struck by the extended family of long-time employees, Winemaker Phillip Carallo-Titus and Vineyard Manager Dave Pirio, who have solid relationships with growers in the business and have secured legendary grapes from some of the best names in the industry based on those relationships.

In fact, Phillip was instrumental in Cyril’s decision to acquire Sonoma-Loeb.  In 1973, Ambassador John Loeb Jr began growing grapes and hired Titus to make the wines.  After two centuries, the Ambassador approached the Chappellet family and they jumped at the opportunity to buy the property thanks to Titus’ amazing work with some of Sonoma county’s top growers including the Dutton and Sangiacomo families.

I want to comment on the unique view of collaboration within Chappellet and how forward thinking it is.  Cyril told me about how a close-knit group of winemakers work together to double blind taste wines that can cost three times the price of the Chappellet wines.  Cyril believes that understanding the nuances of the regions, wines, terroir and flavor profile makes their wines better.

When I had a chance to tour the estate with a group of friends, Joshua Arroyo, was our fabulous host and easily kept up with the group’s sarcasm and spirit of fun.

We started out with a tour of the new hospitality areas and the original winemaking facility that started producing wine in 1969.  Joshua told us how he had been with the Chappellet family for the last two years (72 hours after he unpacked his moving truck to be exact) after falling in love with wine.

We began with a 2015 Molly’s Chenin Blanc, which showcased Molly Chappellet’s sense of style with the super unique bottle.  Chappellet is one of four producers in the area that still make Chenin Blanc and it was delicious with a pretty floral nose and crisp minerality.

We toured the barn where it was fun to see the handprints of the six Chappellet children who are now adults and work with the winery.  Cyril and Carissa Chappellet oversee the day-to-day operations of the winery and Jon-Mark, Dominic, Lygia and Alexa Chappellet serve on the board.  Today there are nine grandchildren who play in the vineyards, just like their parents did.

As we walked through the property, from the solar panels to the organic farming methods used, it was evident that this is a family who believes and cultivates in the land.  We laughed, we walked the grounds, we took pictures (thanks Joshua for making the photos at this site so much better than usual), we tasted wine in their amazing facility and we even visited the gorgeous picnic grounds on our way out.

Recently a marketing consultant gave the winery the sage advice that they are charging too little.  Cyril didn’t jump to raise prices.  He talked about over delivering on quality and the legacy that he wants to leave to the next generation – turn over a better business; and the coolest thing, turn over the land in better shape than he found it meaning sustainability, farming and improving the quality of the vineyard operation.  And of course, the wines – they need to continue to be worthy of the Chappellet legacy.

How Is the Wine

And the wines – oh the wines – other than the Chenin Blanc, we tasted the 2013 Signature Chardonnay, the 2012 Napa Valley Las Piedras, the 2013 Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch, the 2008 Signature Cabernet and the 2009 Signature Cabernet.  I am certain that I ordered everything we tried.  Most importantly, we experienced what it felt like to be a part of Chappellet’s extended family.

I’m also going to give my tasting notes for the wines that I tried with Cyril when he visited Dallas since I took better notes in Dallas.

  • 2013 Signature Chenin Blanc – Cyril referred to this as “mom’s wine.”  It includes her signature, label and bottle choice.  It was very crisp and delicious – with notes of peach, orange blossom, lemongrass, floral notes and minerality.
  • 2013 Chappellet Napa Valley Chardonnay —  sourced by grapes outside of the family vineyard, this Old-World style wine had notes of lemon, tropical fruits with spice, caramel and orange blossom.  This was a great Chardonnay.
  • 2013 Sonoma-Loeb Envoy Chardonnay – this was more of a traditional California chardonnay with butterscotch, nectarine, almond and cinnamon.
  • 2013 Sonoma-Loeb Russian River Pinot Noir – this was an awesome iteration of a Russian River Valley Pinot at a fraction of the price – especially for the quality of the block where it originates.  It had notes of black cherry, earth, chocolate and spice.
  • 2013 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon – this is the flagship wine and the wine that put the family on the map showing the beautiful fruit and bounty for the Hillside vineyards.  This was a fantastic, elegant and a wine made for aging, yet drinkable today.  Big notes of chocolate, cassis, spice, mocha, spice, blackberry and sandalwood.  The quality and price ratio of as this wine as compared to those sold for three times the cost on the same hill is amazing.

Atmosphere:

It’s all about hospitality.  From the jackets our group was provided in the cellar and outside so we wouldn’t freeze (what a great idea) to the pictures that Josh took of our group and for my blog (he’s such a better photographer than me), we immediately felt part of the Chappellet extended family.

Pricing and Availability

The wines that are available for purchase (note many of these are hard to get and highly allocated) range from $35 to $68.  All tastings are by prior appointment only.  Hours are Monday to Sunday, 10 am – 4 pm.

Cellar Tasting

Enjoy a tasting in the winery barrel room of five of current release selections.
60 minutes. Price: $40.00 per person.

Estate Tour & Tasting

 Begin with a glass of one of Chappellet’s Signature white wines in the winery followed by a walk through the Pritchard Hill vineyards with stunning vistas of Napa Valley’s Lake Hennessey. Conclude with a tasting of current release selections in the barrel room.
90 minutes. Price: $50.00 per person.

Private Estate Tour and Tasting

 Enjoy an unforgettable private tour of the Chappellet winery and Pritchard Hill vineyards followed by a tasting of five current release selections.
90 minutes. Price: $75.00 per person.

 Signature Tasting and Estate Tour

An estate host takes you for a private tour of the Chappellet winery and vineyards followed by a tasting of Chappellet’s Signature series wines, including the acclaimed Signature Cabernet Sauvignon.
90 minutes. Price: $95.00 per person.

1581 Sage Canyon Rd,

St Helena, CA 94574

(707) 286-4219

Wine Clubs:

Two wine clubs are available – All Wines and Red Wines Only.  The All Wines Selection is a commitment to 4 shipments of 13 total bottles per year (yes 13).  The Red Wine Selection is a commitment to 4 shipments of 10 total bottles per year.

 Both clubs receive access to limited production wines and the following benefits:

Preferred Wine Pricing: 15% savings on wine purchases for non-allocated current release wines and 20% savings on reorders within one month of shipments.

 Library Vintages and Large Format Wines: Seasonally, select library wines and large format bottles are offered to club members.

 Complimentary Visits to Chappellet: After the first wine club shipment, six complimentary tastings per visit are available for use towards our Cellar Tasting or Estate Tour and Tasting. Advanced reservations are required, subject to availability.

 Send Your Friends: Members are welcome to arrange a complimentary Cellar Tasting or Estate Tour and Tasting for friends or family for up to four guests. Advanced reservations are required, subject to availability.

 Invitation to Exclusive Events: Chappellet family members host events both on ‘The Hill’ and across the country throughout the year.

 Preferred Pricing: Preferred pricing and special offers from some of the Valley’s most exclusive hotels, resorts and inns.

 Sonoma-Loeb: Enjoy high-quality, limited-production Sonoma County wines at our Sonoma-Loeb tasting room located just off the Sonoma Plaza. Chappellet member benefits apply.

Tercero Winery: Boutique Charm, No Snobbery Allowed, Yet, Serious Wines

Tercero Winery is not your average wine experience.  In the small, but high energy, tasting room, you will encounter a winemaker, Larry Schaffer, who is more interested in giving consumers a wine they are going to like based on their personal tastes vs. telling people what they should be drinking.  And how refreshing is that?

Larry is a bit of a mad scientist meets educator who completely takes the snobbery out of wine and openly mocks anyone who takes themselves too seriously.  After a career of doing many things including being an Enologist for Fess Parker Winery, Larry decided that he wanted to start buying grapes and making his own wine.   Larry thinks consumers and with the variety of red and white Rhone varietals that he makes, Tercero is full of well-made choices for everyone.

The wines are sourced from five vineyards in Santa Barbara – Camp 4 Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley; Larner Vineyard in Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos; Tierra Alta Vineyard in Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos; Thompson Vineyard in Los Alamos and Watch Hill Vineyard also in Los Alamos.

How Is the Wine

The wines are a variety of red and white Rhone varietals that showcase the depth and variety of what can be grown well in Santa Barbara and this region.  There truly is something for everyone.

I really like the style of Tercero’s wines, but Larry makes many so I’m going to focus on the ones that I shipped home when I visited in February 2018.

2016 Tercero Mourvedre Rose – Larry serves this Rose at room temperature so you can understand the depth of this wine.  I know it sounds cliché, but this truly smells like Summer in a glass – fresh berries, earthiness, raspberries, watermelon and cherry blossoms.

2014 Tercero Verbiage Blanc is a white Rhône blend made from 64% Roussanne, 24% Viognier, and 12% Grenache Blanc.  I tasted notes of stone fruit, flowers, pie crust, baked apple and a creamy texture.

2011 Tercero The Climb – a 50 percent blend of Syrah and a 50 percent blend of Petite Sirah is big and bold, but elegant and smooth.  I loved the black fruit, the chocolate, the spice, the meat, the peppercorn.  This is a wine that I will cellar for a while as I can’t wait for its evolution.

2011 Tercero Cuvee Loco – another blend of 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah, which has notes of black fruit, eucalyptus, black cherry, leather and dried fig.

2016 Tercero Aberration — another wine that Larry recommends to be served chilled.  This is a 100 percent Cabernet Franc wine with notes of red ripe strawberries, raspberries, cranberry, cassis and herbs. Super drinkable and bottled in clear glass so you can keep your friends guessing.

Atmosphere:

You will not find a more authentic person than Winemaker Larry Schaffer …. like it or not.  If you leave your pretention at the door, you are in for a great experience and someone who is genuinely interested in finding wines that you like to drink.  And, he is a master baker. If you are lucky enough to be there when bread or cookies are in the tasting room, check your diet at the door.

The Tercero tasting room is in Los Olivos, CA, in the Santa Ynez Valley, 30 miles north of Santa Barbara right off the main street.  As you look around the room, you’ll see Larry’s love for science with the glassware showcasing the ‘alchemy’ aspect of winemaking. You will not find one tasting note because what you taste is individual.

Five wines are poured and the tasting fee is $15.  The fee is waived with the purchase of a few bottles or if you join the wine club.

Hours are Thursday through Monday from noon to 5 pm, or by appointment.

Pricing and Availability

The wines range from $25 to $50 and are very value priced for what they deliver.

Wine Club

It’s a no obligation wine club with no auto shipments without confirmation. There are wine club shipments three to four times a year, and each shipment will contain two bottles of two different wines. That said, with each shipment, you’ll have at least four different options to choose from – all reds, all whites, a ‘standard’ package (whatever it might be), and at least one ‘upgrade’ option whereby shipping will be included.  Perks include free tastings for you and up to 3 guests at the tasting room, 20% discounts on all purchases and invites to members-only events.

 

A Calm Before This Storm: Santa Barbara’s Best Kept Secret

In the middle of a land of much larger and more impressive wine properties, there sits a non-descript barn.  In this barn, in Santa Barbara wine country, is the site of some of the most impressive wines we found during our trip.  Welcome to Storm Wines with Winemaker Ernst Storm, a quiet South African with a passion for making organic Rosé, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.  The winery, which has a production of about 2,000 cases is for now, the best kept secret that you will thank me for revealing.

Ernst told me during our discussion, “I love nature and believe the less you do to impact the environment, the better.  It is all about respect.”

Ernst grew up in South Africa and went to school at the Elsenburg Agricultural School in Stellenbosch and worked as a winemaker in South Africa.  He came to California to learn how to work in a warmer client and eventually saw similarities with the soils and microclimates between the Western Cape and Santa Barbara County.  He worked at Firestone Winery (during the days of the Bachelor filming, and no he was never on camera) and started Storm with 6 barrels in 2006.  In 2008, Ernst became involved in the winemaking at Curtis Winery.  At the end of 2013, he left Curtis to focus on Storm.

Fun fact — Ernst’s brother, Hannes, launched Storm Wines-South Africa in 2012.  His focus is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

How Is the Wine

This was a favorite of our group on the trip and we shipped several cases home buying just about anything we could get our hands on.  The Rosé started at $24 and the Syrah and single vineyard Pinot Noirs were priced around $55, but these wines were stand-outs and worth every penny.

Since we bought everything we sampled, I went to the site and listed what was currently available of what we sampled as of this posting.

2016 Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc – sourced from three different Santa Ynez Valley vineyards, I tasted lots of grapefruit, melon, tropical fruit and guava.

2017 Santa Ynez Valley Demetria Vineyard Grenache Rosé – this was the perfect way to usher in the Summer with notes of melon, jasmine, strawberry and watermelon made it easy to sip, but it had a complexity that made you want to keep coming back to see what would unveil next in the glass.

2016 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir – the terroir in this wine shone through along with the red and black cherry and spice.

2015 Santa Maria Valley Presqu’ile Vineyard Pinot Noir — notes of Asian spice, tea, flowers, red cherry and spice make this a wine that you want to keep sipping just to see what happens as it develops in your glass.

2015 Sta. Rita Hills John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir – I tasted notes of cranberry, black cherry, terroir, herbs, juicy berry and mushroom.

 2015 Santa Barbara County Duvarita Vineyard Pinot Noir – I tasted blue fruit, funk, earth, spice, dark fruit and earth.  I loved this wine.

2016 Edna Valley Slide Hall Vineyard Syrah – notes of black fruit, herbs, black pepper and spice make this a soulful and deep wine that begs to be enjoyed with friends, food and time.

 Atmosphere:

If you want to be pampered, this is not your place.  We stood around a barrel in the barn and enjoyed authentic, one-on-one time with the winemaker.  What is better than that?  This is a place that you need to make an appointment as there really is no tasting room set up.  Ernst serves every role at the winery and will need to be there as he’s the sole full-time staff member.

Pricing and Availability

The wines range from $24 to $55 and completely over deliver.  No wine club, no frills, no problem.  Just enjoy the wines if you can find them.

“Without History There Is No Future” – A Visit to Mauritson Family Winery

Background

I heard a quote that came to life during my visit to the Mauritson Family Winery — “without history there is no future” – author, unknown.

The Mauritson family has been growing grapes and making wine for six generations and has been in the Dry Creek Valley for more than 150 years.  First a little background on the winery and the family.  S.P. Hallengren, the great-great-great grandfather of the family and pioneer of the Rockpile region, first planted vines in 1884 and was also a sheep rancher.  This land has quite the history.  The Rockpile land and ranch grew to 4,000 acres by the early 1960s when the Army Corps of Engineers decided the land was needed to build Lake Sonoma.  The government paid 48 cents on the dollar and most of the family’s original ranch is now under water.  The family moved to Alexander Valley where it purchased 110 acres and then to Dry Creek Valley.  Mauritson has 310 vineyards across Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and the Rockpile AVAs (to be classified as Rockpile, the fruit has to be grown over 800 feet above sea level).

I’ve had the chance to go on two private tours with Carrie Mauritson, who heads up sales and marketing, where I first four-wheeled through the Rockpile vineyard (which she summed up perfectly, ”If it wasn’t for love, there would be no Rockpile AVA”.   What I loved about that visit (other than the amazing Zins) were the stories.  The vineyards had interesting stories behind their names from Buck’s Pasture where deer liked to congregate to Jack’s Cabin (a tree girdler with a colorful history and a love of the drink lived there many decades ago) to Independence (the grandfather killed four pigs there on July 4th), the sense of history and fun of this family shone through.  My second time was in the library where I tasted current release and library wines.

How is the Wine:

Six generations of growing grapes and making wine shines through here.  The family takes care with the entire process – from grape to bottle.  Here are a few tasting notes from the wines I tried:

2016 Mauritson Chardonnay, Alexander Valley – notes of citrus, almond, pear, flowers and a nice minerality.  Definitely an Old-World style of chardonnay that is my style.

2014 Mauritson Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley – blackberry, raspberry, jammy notes and chocolate along with Asian spice in this complex Zinfandel.  A great Zinfandel and all proceeds benefit Sonoma Country Resilience Fund supporting recovery from the wildfires.

2015 Rockpile Zinfandel, Cemetery Vineyards – rich blackberry pie, Fig Newton’s, Espresso, Maple Syrup and Chocolate make this happiness in a glass.

2012 Rockpile Zinfandel, Rockpile Ridge Vineyards (library selection) – After our wonderful lunch with Carrie the last visit, this is a special place for me and this wine did not disappoint.  The age gave this wine some time to evolve and you could taste the minerality, the mellowed fruit and the elegant nature of the wine.

2014 Rockpile “Buck Pasture” Red Wine – black and red fruit, chocolate, mocha, earth, tobacco and herbs.

2009 Suther Cabernet Sauvignon (library selection) – I learned on this trip that Mauritson was doing a single soil 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon program in its LOAM series.  There are four – Suther, Loam, Positas and Clough.  We tried Suther, which was weathered from sedimentary and extrusive igneous rock.  Suther soil is a gravelly loam found on broad ridge tops and side slopes of mountains, with elevations ranging from 800-4,000 ft.  I tasted black fruit, dark cherry, chocolate, minerality, some oak, some herbs and some spice. Divine and the ultimate time for a wine geek to well … geek…

Atmosphere:

This is a family affair and that attitude extends to the tasting room.  You will find yourself welcomed from the moment you walk in and most likely will meet a family member.  This is a friendly place, but they make some great wines.  Sit back, listen to the stories and drink some great wines.

Price and Availability:

The tasting room is open to the public or private tastings are available by appointment.  Vineyard tours and tastings are available to wine club members.

General Tasting
$30 per person – a customized flight of limited production releases.  No appointment necessary for less than six people.  Appointments required for six or more people.

Cellar Private Tours and Tastings
$40 per person
​Limited to 8 guests

Rockpile Wine Club:

2 shipments per year
6 bottles minimum per shipment
Average price per shipment, excluding applicable shipping and taxes is $300
Access limited Mauritson and Rockpile wines upon release
Guaranteed case allocation per year, with opportunity to add to allocations when available
Exclusive access to library wines & large format bottles
Ability to customize allocations
Two allocation release dates:  April & October
Preferred shipping rates – cost split on full or more case orders
Wish list available for sought-after wines

Rockpile Tour and Tasting for up to six people, once a year, weather permitting
Private, customized Wine Library tastings
Invitations to regional winemaker dinners and tastings
Concierge services – restaurant recommendations and accommodation referrals
Complimentary tastings when visiting Tasting Room
Invitations to new release tastings and other special events

We’re Going “All In” A Sonoma Decision: Arista Winery

Arista Winery was founded in 2002 by Janis and Al McWilliams.  This Texas-based family, who always had an affinity for food and wine, took the plunge in the early 1990’s with the purchase of land in Sonoma.  It was an “all in” decision.  But, in hindsight, it wasn’t too far of a stretch.  Janis spent time in Paris and became a fabulous chef.  Their children, Mark and Ben, grew up experiencing different tastes, flavors and smells.

The family had vacationed in Sonoma for a few decades and one day called the kids into a room for “the talk”.  The kids were dumbfounded to hear that they were not only buying land in Sonoma, but they were relocating the family because Al and Janis wanted to follow their passion for wine.  They partnered with a vineyard management company and other experts to put together a team.  The family sold to their grapes to wineries, some very established ones, for about ten years.

After Mark experienced growing season in the vineyard and harvest season in the cellar at other wineries, he convinced his family it was time to make wine and the McWilliams brand was launched in 2002.  McWilliams was quickly changed to Arista, the Greek word for excellence, after a cease and desist letter was sent from another McWilliams winery.  The first vintage was a couple hundred cases of three Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs.  In 2004, the family purchased 36 acres of estate vineyards in Sonoma that were last planted in the 1850’s by Reuben Harper, who is buried on the property and memorialized in Arista’s Harper’s Rest, a great wine.

The family found four different soil types on the property, which they divided into four different vineyards.  This is the tenth vintage and Arista makes 14 pinot noirs, a limited production of two chardonnays, one gewürztraminer and one zinfandel that are about 50 percent estate grown.  The family also purchased the historic 74-acre Martinelli Road Vineyard, adding to their 36 acres of estate vineyard ownership at the home winery with zinfandel planted in 1880, chardonnay planted over 30 years ago and pinot noir planted 22 years ago.  Also notable are the well-regarded neighbors – Williams Selyem Estate and the Allen Ranch.

Today, Mark and his brother Ben run the day-to-day operations of the winery.  I’ve had the chance over the years to sit down with Mark and hear about his story and philosophy.

I asked Mark what he is trying to accomplish in his wines – he said, “I want them to stop you and get your attention.  I want to make wines that take people on a continuum of what they first drank and the evolution of their palate.”  He also mentioned how food and wine continue to be mainstays at Arista where they offer several sensory experiences including food/wine experiences where guests pick food from their garden which they later eat during dinner to gardening to glass classes where people make pizzas with ingredients fresh from the garden.

How Is the Wine

The wine is delicious, but scarce.  In fact, 95% of their wine is direct-to-consumer and only 5% to restaurants and there is a wait list.   Here was our line-up:

2015 Arista Russian River Valley Chardonnay – this is an Old-World style that was elegant with notes of lemon custard, herbs, tropical, passion fruit, pear, apple and an almost saline characteristic that I adored.

2015 Arista Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – this was an earthy blend with cherry cola, plum, licorice, all spice, earthy and cloves.

2015 Arista Perli Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – bursting with cranberry, raspberry, strawberry, herbs, Asian spice and minerality.

2015 Mononi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – these three acres of grapes are farmed exclusively by Paul Mononi.  I tasted notes of black tea, flowers, red fruit, herbs and spice.

2015 Banfield Vineyard Russian River Zinfandel – these vines were planted in 1880, the year that Edison applied for a patent on the light bulb.  It was a nuanced and balanced zinfandel with black and red fruit, but done in more of a Pinot Noir style.

Atmosphere:

In the spirit of full disclosure, I tasted at The Pavilion, Arista’s new tasting room that presents breathtaking views of the Russian River Valley.  This is where the winery rolls out the red carpet with farm to table “small bites” prepared by Executive Chef, Tim Kaulfers, while we were hosted by Michael Kanbergs, the Estate Sommelier.

Pricing and Availability

Appellation Experience – $35 per person (up to 8 guests)

Arista’s Appellation Experience is a seated, tasting that delves into the Arista experience from the history to the winemaking philosophy to the family’s outlook on sustainable farming to tasting the specific regions.  This experience is available 7 days a week from 10 am to 4 pm by appointment only.

“Taste of Terroir” Experience – $65 per person

Arista’s Taste of Terroir Experience is a private, seated and Sommelier-led tasting meant to show-case the variety in their wines and focuses on the family’s site-driven winemaking philosophy as well as the differences in terroir, climate, and weather that leave impressions on the wine.  This is paired with food highlighting the seasonal produce of Arista’s Estate Chef ’s culinary garden. This experience is currently offered Tuesday – Saturday (appointment required) and is based on availability.

“East Meets West” Experience

$160 per person member pricing or $200 per person non-member pricing

The Russian River Valley in Sonoma County and the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County are renowned for producing stunning Pinot Noirs and expressive cool-climate Chardonnays.  Copain, Gary Farrell and Arista have teamed up to provide a “terroir tour” showcasing the distinctive flavors and characteristics that exist between the two regions as well as vineyard to vineyard within the same region.

Arista has the A-List wine club.  Currently there is a 12-18 month wait list to be added to the A-List.

 

 

Pedroncelli Family Vineyard Review

In 1927, John Sr. (Giovanni) and Julia Pedroncelli purchased the vineyard and a small winery with a total of 90 acres in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley in Geyserville, California for $11,000. Pedroncelli was one of the first wineries in Sonoma Country and the property originally consisted of a home, 25-acres of vineyards of mostly zinfandel and a winery – that was quickly closed when Prohibition struck.

During this time, like most Italian families, they sold grapes door to door in town. The also conducted early “social media of the day”, was the word of mouth that resulted on how they sold grapes in that door to door fashion. The family tells the story of Uncle John’s memory of his Father’s Model T breaking down in town. The axle snapped and John was left to guard the grapes in the broken-down car while his grandfather trekked back to town to fix the situation. They continued to tend the vines and sell grapes to home winemakers who had the ability to produce 200 gallons for sacramental or medicinal purposes.

When Prohibition ended, the Pedroncelli’s were ready and the first vintage was produced in 1934. The original focus was on bulk wines, sold in barrels to stores and individuals. In the 1940’s, they started their own label and the second generation joined their father with their son John becoming winemaker in 1948 followed by Jim becoming sales director in 1955. The two sons later purchased the winery in 1963.

At this point, the strategy shifting from bulk wines to estate and single vintages as well as vineyard expansion and diversification. The acreage doubled from 90 to more than 180 acres. Over the next 20 years the significant changes continued — the third generation came on board, the Home Ranch Vineyard was re-planted, a national sales and export team was established, a new barrel and tasting room was added. In 2015, the family suffered a devastating loss with the death of John Pedroncelli, Senior Winemaker. He still is very much a part of the family, but in 2015 the family named Montse Reece as the third winemaker in nearly 90 years and the first woman winemaker. She is no stranger to the family as she joined the winemaking team at Pedroncelli Winery in 2007 serving alongside John Pedroncelli for seven harvests.

It should be noted that much about Pedroncelli is old school and based in tradition. For example, both Jim and Julie work out of offices that were once their childhood bedrooms.

However, the winery is making some key strides ahead of many other wineries in California. They were the first to bottle Cabernet Sauvignon in Dry Creek. Pedroncelli not only has a women winemaker, but it is now a 70 percent woman owned company. And Ed St John, Vice President, has used his 25 years of wine experience to introduce new practices to the winery and in marketing. Last Summer, the winery received its certification from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA).

As changes press forth, I feel confident elements will remain unchanged: The commitment this family has to the land; to growing their own grapes; and to making affordable delicious wine they are proud to have their name on with a focus on family legacy.

How Is the Wine

Five words – easy drinking, diverse, hand-crafted well priced and delicious. You really can find something for everyone.

Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay (single vineyard and Dry Creek), and the Friends Wines (red and white easy drinking blends from Sonoma priced around $13) to Sangiovese, Red Blends, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Those who want hearty reds, you’ll find them here with award-winning, estate Cabernet Sauvignons, Petite Syrah and Zinfandels. And there’s even one amazing port that will leave you craving more of this complex dessert wine.

Atmosphere

Four generations of the Pedroncelli family have called Geyserville, in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County, home since 1927. Tending the land and making wine is much more than a business — it is their lifestyle. As a part of that, prepare to be welcomed to the family.

The attitude is casual, you would never guess the price points of these wines as you drink them (meaning the family could easily price them much higher), the conversation flows easily and it is likely you will be presented with the perfect recipe to match as Julie Pedroncelli is known for matching food and wine.

Price and Availability

Tastings:

Regular tastings of a selection of wines is $10 per person and waived with the purchase of wine.

Private Wine and Food Tastings: There are also private food and wine tastings where you select five wines and the hospitality team pairs them with locally produced cheeses and/or other food pairings. They also provide other recipe and pairing suggestions. Minimum 24-hour advance reservation. $25.00 per person. Special Club Ped (wine club pricing of $20).

Heritage Wine Tour and Tasting: This is a walking tour around the family’s heritage vineyards with information on current vintages and the 85 plus year history of the family’s contribution to the evolution of Dry Creek Valley wine growing and making. You then have a private tasting flight of 5 wines that will include at least one “cellar classic wine” selected from our library. Minimum 24-hour advance reservation required. $25.00 per person; Club Ped Members $15.00

Lunch and Tasting: Select 5 wines to taste at your table and then select one to enjoy with your lunch. Minimum 48-hour advance reservation required. $35.00 per person; Club Ped Members $30.00.

Group are also welcome to come and picnic and/or play bocce in the picnic-bocce area.

Club Ped Wine Club:

There are several levels of Club Ped, which are three bottles of wine shipped four times a year. You can specify red only or red and white. Each shipment is $55-$65 plus tax. There is also a Zinfan Club where members Automatically receive a case of every Zinfandel we make at a 20% discount from retail price averaging $170-$240 plus tax, per shipment

Benefits include:
Quarterly 3 bottle Club Ped shipments
15% discounts on case purchases
10% discounts on 6 bottle purchases
10% discounts on Tasting Room Merchandise
Invitations to private Club Ped events

Lambert Bridge Winery Review

Lambert Bridge is located west of Dry Creek near its namesake bridge. Ironically, the C.L. Lambert family settled at this property a century ago. And 60 years later in 1975, Jerry Lambert, who was not related, decided this was an amazing site to make wine. Fast forward to 1993 and Ray and Patti Chambers fell in love with the property.

We met with Lambert Bridge’s Bill Smart, general manager, and Jennifer Higgins, winemaker. Jennifer talked about the story telling that goes into a bottle of wine. We talked, we drank amazing wine, we told stories and we were made to feel like family. On top of that we sat outside and had the most amazing view. Jennifer talked about quality, the investment of the current owners, limited production (the winery went from 25,000 cases to 7,000 cases) and how involved she is in every step of the farming and winemaking.

Jennifer, a Sonoma County resident, had a master plan of taking her biochemistry degree and going to medicine school. She moved to Italy for two years and took a tasting room job as she studied for her exam. In just a small amount of time, Zelma Long of Simi Winery, one of the iconic women winemakers, changed Jennifer’s mind about wine and a passion was born. She talked about the “who’s who” in female winemakers that she’s worked with and it’s an impressive list from Helen Turley to Jill Davis. She now has become the mentor to other women and believes in the importance of paying it forward.

How is the Wine

Lambert Bridge sorts every berry on every individual cluster and is very straightforward in its approach – “we make wine for passionate wine drinkers,” Bill said. The winery sells direct to consumers and doesn’t submit for wine ratings. I tried twelve different wines and was absolutely blown away by every wine that I tasted. Our two-hour timeframe passed in the blink of an eye. The winery talks about family, milestones, passion and the importance of keeping a sense of place. It is a group of people that have never met a stranger that have a mission of sharing great wine with great people. It’s estate and incredible.

Here are a few tasting notes from the wines I tried (note the entry wine is $50):

2014 Lambert Bridge Chardonnay, Chambers Vineyard paired with Highway 1, Valley Ford Cheese Company – full of tropical fruit, apricot, spice, citrus and orange peel. This was my kind of elegant, Old World Chardonnay. It was delicious.

2014 Lambert Bridge Cabernet Franc, Sonoma Country and St. George, Matos Cheese Company – notes of blackberry, pepper, spice, red cherry, mocha and cigar box, this has long been one of my favorite California cabernet franc wines. It was perfect with the cheese.
2013 Lambert Bridge Malbec, Chambers Vineyard and Mt. Tam, Cowgirl Creamery – notes of berry, spice flowers and blueberry. Never in a million years would I have put these two together, but they were a great match.

2013 Lambert Bridge Crane Creek Cuvee, Sonoma County and Dry Jack Special Reserve, Vella Cheese Company – this is Lambert Bridge’s Bordeaux blend and is a gorgeous wine. Plum, spice, blueberry, earth and elegance all wrapped up in one sexy, elegant package. The cheese was beautiful with it, but it needed nothing.

2012 Lambert Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Fiscalini Cheddar, Fiscalini Cheese Company – more elegance in a glass with red cherry, pepper, spice, mocha and chocolate with an almost velvet finish. Excellent with the cheese pairing.

2013 Petit Verdot and San Andreas, Bellwether Farms – Boysenberry, cherry cola, mocha and spice continue to make this another favorite wine of mine. Also worked very well with the cheese.

2015 Lambert Bridge Meyers Zinfandel – notes of cranberry, pomegranate and white pepper. It was a well-balanced and lovely Zinfandel.

Atmosphere

From the moment you walk in, you never meet a stranger. While it had been 18 months since my last visit, things had not changed in terms of the hospitality mentioned above or the outstanding wines. Jennifer is in control of every aspect of the farming and winemaking process and it shows. Each cluster is farmed individually and sorted. The winery continues to make wine for passionate wine drinkers. This is a friendly place, but a place for high-end, boutique wines as well. Tastings can be done outside in the garden, under the gazebo, inside the tasting room or in the library (by appointment)

We had a wine and cheese flight for six wines and then they brought out an extra bottle just so we could try the Zinfandel. Full disclosure: this is one of the few wine clubs that I am a member of because I love their wines so much and my tasting was complimentary.

Price and Availability

Tastings are available By Appointment or On the Fly.

By Appointment:

$75, connoisseur tasting in the cellar room with local cheese and charcuterie.
$40, five Bordeaux tasting includes complement of artisanal cheeses, fruit and nuts.

On the Fly:

$30, walk flight of five wines is presented at the Curly Redwood Bar
One bottle minimum purchase for every two guests on property, garden tasting.

Hours: 10:30 to 5 pm (tastings above vary by hours)

Wine Clubs:

The Liquid Assets Membership is at Four Different Levels and Pricing and Perks Differ.

Signature (Red and White or Red Only)

Signature Members receive a host of complimentary benefits, including a two night stay in The Signature House, special tastings, Liquid Asset Summer and Holiday Party invites, complimentary wine concierge service and first access to rare wines which often sell out before release. Signature Members receive six shipments: January, March, May, June, September + November — 72 bottles annually.

Premium Members receive four shipments: January, March, September + November — 48 bottles annually as well as access to the Signature House, special tastings, Liquid Asset Summer and Holiday Party invites (a lesser number), complimentary wine concierge service and access to some special wines.

Classic Members receive four shipments: January, March, September + November — 24 bottles annually. Some of the benefits above are included like special tastings, Liquid Asset Summer and Holiday Party invites and access to some special wines.

Classic 12 Members receive two shipments: September + March — 12 bottles annually. Some of the benefits above are included like special tastings, Liquid Asset Summer and Holiday Party invites and access to some special wines. All but this level of wine club is customizable.

A variety of food and wine events are ongoing at the winery. Click here for more information.